by Carmela Fonbuena / PCIJ
Three weeks into her appointment, Marawi Compensation Board (MCB) chairman Maisara Dandamun Latiph still could not hire staff members. It was late February when the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) caught up with her to ask for a timeline of the board’s activities. They can only do so much, she said, until their budget is released and they’re able to hire staff.
“We hope the funds will be released soon…. We can’t start our consultations if we don’t have staff who will document the proceedings,” she told PCIJ over the phone on Feb. 24. They have been squatting in the offices of partner agencies to get some work done.
She knew Marawi siege victims had been waiting for years to be compensated. The sooner the board starts working the sooner the victims will be paid, although everyone knows the challenges ahead are big.
The MCB is an independent and quasi judicial body created under Republic Act 11696, which was signed into law just before the 2022 elections, to provide compensation for the loss or destruction of properties and loss of lives as a result of the 2017 Marawi siege.
The law was the work of Marawi civil society organizations and stakeholders that lobbied Congress to help them rebuild and recover. They lamented how the former Duterte administration released more than P10 billion for Marawi rehabilitation but the funds mostly went to rebuilding public infrastructure.
Close to six years since followers of jihadist group Islamic State laid siege to Marawi, most public infrastructure in the “main affected areas” or MAA are nearly complete. But not even one percent of 17,793 displaced households in the MAA have returned. (READ: Marawi buildings – with a price tag of P10-B – are ready but empty)
Can the national gov’t afford the payments?
Latiph told PCIJ the board aims to begin to formally receive applications from claimants before the siege marks its sixth year on May 23 this year. “Hopefully by that time, mag-start na ‘yung running ngone year – May 2023 until May 2024 – to file their claims,” she said.
It leaves the board less than three months to conduct consultations and draft the law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR). Ramadan, a month-long period of fasting and prayer from sunrise to sunset, will also start on March 22.
“We already have an initial draft. We are not starting from zero,” Latiph said, citing proposals submitted by the Lanao Del Sur provincial government, Marawi city government, Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM), as well as civil society groups.
But a crucial decision has yet to be made. How much compensation will victims receive?
For the properties, the law covers 24 barangays in the MAA, where there are over 17,000 registered households, and eight other barangays in the “Other Affected Areas.”
Latiph said this will be discussed carefully with government agencies, civil society organizations, and displaced residents themselves. “May mga aspect na technical. For example, magkano ang magiging kabuuan? Kaya ba ng national government ang payment (There are technical aspects. For example, how much will the total compensation be? Can the national government afford the payment)?”
R.A. 11696 provides guidelines for the board to consult government agencies such as the Department of Budget and Management, Department of Finance, Bangsamoro Human Rights Council, TFBM, and the National Economic and Development Authority.
“Wala pa namang sinasabi na ito lang ang amount pero syempre ang nakalagay sa law ay (Nothing has been said yet that this is the only amount but of course what the law says is) it will be in accordance with the IRR. Sa IRR talaga lahat makikita magkano ang amount. Ano ang range (The IRR will show what the amount will be. What the range is),” she said.
Unofficial damage estimates reached as high as P70 billion. “Magkano ang napunta sa Marawi rehabilitation? Sabihin na natin, kasama ang galing sa mga donors na mga P25 billion. Kung into ang susundin, may mga P50 billion pa tayong hihingiin sa kanila,” said Drieza Lininding, chairman of Marawi civil society organization Moro Consensus Group NGO.
(Let’s just say P25 billion has been spent, including projects from by donors. If this will be followed, we still have to ask about P50 billion.)
Vast powers, huge money
Latiph’s position comes with big responsibilities, vast powers, huge budget, and high expectations.
She has the rank, salary, and emoluments and allowances equivalent to a presiding justice of the Court of Appeals. She will be assisted by eight other members of the board, who have the rank equivalent to an associate justice.
The MCB has an initial fund of P1 billion to pay for victims’ compensation. Next year, fresh funds will be requested based on the board’s assessment of the needs.
When the MCB determines the range of compensation payments, Latiph said processing of claims should be straightforward except if the properties are disputed.
The law also offers guidance on possible issues that will arise. If the property owners are deceased, the legal heirs will be identified based on the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines or the Civil Code of the Philippines. The owners of properties demolished in the MAA will be compensated based on the Right of Way Act.
Those who built on land that doesn’t belong to them will also be compensated, and the disputes over the true owners of the land will be separately resolved.
But there are many ways the claims can become complex. There are properties with multiple claimants. There are overlapping claims, and there are fraudulent claims. The city government also took a position that reclaimed land along the banks of Lake Lanao is government property, which residents are contesting.
It’s these disputes that will demonstrate the enormous power of the board.
“We will act as an adjudicatory body. Hindi kami kami executive department na ordinary (We will not be an ordinary executive department). We are really a court,” she said.
Everyone knows, including Latiph herself, that it’s going to be a tough job. “Masyadong complex at malaki ang challenges (The challenges are huge and complex),” she said.
Even for the compensation for the loss of lives during the siege, which included those who are legally presumed dead, the death toll is unclear. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are still in the process of documenting the missing and the dead.
Civil society support, traditional law
What Latiph has going for her is the support of many CSOs. She is a known advocate of peace, women, and children. She has a Masters degree in Educational Leadership and School Improvement from the University of Manchester in the UK.
“Malaking (It is a huge) challenge, but we trust her,” said Samira Gutoc, a widely respected Marawi non-government organization (NGO) leader. Latiph once belonged to the NGO community herself. She pursued a career at the Office of the Solicitor General, where she became Senior State Solicitor and later member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority of the regional government.
“Maisara has been progressive. She was the one who sat with the Comelec during (Bangsamoro Organic Law) talks. She has an advocacy for orphans,” said Gutoc.
Latiph leads a woman-dominated board. She is joined by fellow lawyers Sittie Aliyyah Adiong, daughter in law of Lanao Del Sur Gov Mamintal Adiong, and Romaisa Mamutuk, who is also an accountant. Prof. Dalomabi Lao Bula represents the CSOs while Jamaica Dimaporo is a physician.
The other members are Moslemen Macarambon Sr., Mustapha Dimaampao, Mabandes Sumindad Diron Jr., and Nasser Tabao.
Latiph’s strength will be her independence, said Lininding. It helps, he said, that she is based in Manila. “She is independent from local politicians,” he said.
She is married to fellow lawyer Algamar Latiph, who argued against Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (Republic Act 11479) before the Supreme Court in 2021. He is now the chief legislative officer of Senator Robin Padilla, one of the champions of Marawi residents even as he initially questioned the basis for awarding them compensation.
Beyond compensating the victims, CSOs are hoping the board will be supportive of their battlecry for the immediate recognition of residents’ “right to return without conditions” and the right to receive social services.
“After six years, pati kaming (even us) civil society leaders are incapacitated,” said Gutoc. She has called on the city government to waive all fees, referring to the cost of processing of requirements under the country’s building code, but to no avail.
“Dapat ma-sustain ang support sa IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons),” said Lininding.
Are these still part of the board’s mandate? Yes, according to Latiph, citing a provision in the law empowering the board to recommend interventions for further recovery and rehabilitation.
“It’s not just about payments. It’s also about healing,” said Latiph. She talked about providing livelihood opportunities and intervening to expedite water supply in the MAA to allow residents’ return.
Latiph: ‘It shouldn’t be politicized’
Latiph is aware of the burden they carry. It is important that they keep the trust of the residents, she said.
One thing she wouldn’t want to happen is the board to be politicized. “Dapat hindi siya ma-politicize. [Dapat] ma-spare siya sa politics. Kasi kawawa ang mga tao, biktima na sila tapos ipa-politics pa di ba (It should not be politicized. It should be spared from politics. Otherwise the people will suffer. They are already victims and then now it will be politicized)?” she said.
They will make their processes transparent, she said. “The decision of the monetary compensation by the board will be based only on the merits of each claim and considering the evidence presented by the claimants,” she said.
The civil society organizations will be watching. “The role of CSOs will continue to be unchanged. [We will be] unwavering [in our role as] fiscalizer. Where is the money? How is it being spent?” she said.
The work is important not only for the victims of the 2017 Marawi siege, but for victims of similar situations in the future. If successful, it could design future government interventions to make sure that they will not be neglected again.